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Connellsville's playoff hopes still alive heading into Week 9

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 11:30 p.m.
Jade Maher and the Connellsville offense must complete drives against Altoona in order to win and have a shot at the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier

When Connellsville football players trudged off their home field after a crushing 21-14 loss to Latrobe last week, the Falcons had assumed their playoff hopes for 2012 had vanished.

But as it turns out, not all hope is lost. This season, the WPIAL instituted a wild card system in which one team from Class AAAA will qualify for the upcoming playoffs. The Falcons (2-6, 2-5) are one of six teams still in the hunt for the wild-card spot, along with this week's opponent, Altoona.

“Being alive is great and it gives us something to play for,” Connellsville coach Dave McDonald said. “But we've got to take care of our business.”

For the Falcons to qualify for the postseason, they need to go on the road and beat the Mountain Lions (3-5, 3-4). Connellsville also has to hope that Penn Hills loses to Woodland Hills and Baldwin falls to Bethel Park. If those scenarios fall into place, Connellsville will be awarded the wild card based on Gardner Points over Penn Hills.

The Falcons may get the help they need from Woodland Hills and Bethel Park, but they have to be able to help themselves, something they haven't been able to do during a three-game losing streak that has dropped them to seventh place in the Quad East Conference.

The loss to Latrobe was particularly painful.

“When we watched the Latrobe film (on the weekend), it left a bad taste in our mouths,” McDonald said. “We watched the film again on Monday, and we told them that if we dot our Is and cross our Ts, we win that game convincingly. We've left a couple games out there.”

But for all of their missed opportunities, the Falcons still have one last chance at a spot in the postseason. However, beating Altoona won't be easy.

“Altoona is very well-coached,” McDonald said. “They are very sound from an offensive and defensive perspective. They don't gamble on defense and they run their system on offense and they believe in it.”

McDonald noted that there are similarities between his team and Altoona, including that the Mountain Lions also run some offensive plays out of the wing-T.

Altoona quarterback Brennan Luciano has completed 63 of 115 passes for 914 yards and five touchdowns. Avery Howsare has seven rushing touchdowns, and Jake Diviney has 21 catches for 279 yards and two scores.

The Mountain Lions are also fighting for their playoff lives. Altoona can finish fifth in the conference with a win and a Kiski Area loss to Latrobe. Altoona could also end up as the wild-card team with a win and a Penn Hills loss.

For the Falcons to be successful, the offense must finish what it starts. Too many times in recent games, Connellsville has driven the ball down the field, only to have a promising scoring chance nullified by penalties or turnovers.

“They were hurting for the way they played, but kids are resilient,” McDonald said. “We've got a good core group of kids and they have never given up. As bad as it was last Friday night, there were some things that fell our way, and it seems as though our kids have another great opportunity and we've got to take it.”

Connellsville quarterback Jade Maher has completed 62 of 105 passes for 949 yards and seven touchdowns. Jordan McCrae leads the ground attack with 97 carries for 625 yards and six touchdowns. Darrell Ross has 24 catches for 380 yards and three touchdowns.

Jason Black is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-626-3534.

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